“Thank You” is an Excellent Exit Line. Or Opener. Oh, Both, of Course!

So I shall begin with a resounding Thank You. To another three gracious and inspiring bloggers who have nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thank You, amazing Eve and marvelous ‘Nessa and sweet Peaches! Eve’s poetry and prose move me so deeply I sometimes think she reads my mind–but with better compositional and editing skills than I have. ‘Nessa inspires me with her old-soul attitudes and resilience in the face of committed creative work in such a public forum as a blog at what seems to this aging lady like a tender age indeed, putting out fine and fiery writing as well. Peach Farm Studio is a lovely land whose mistress creates fabulous letterpress art and, as inspiration and adjunct to that, plays with beautiful and wonderful text, music, imagery and any other ingredients that can be combined to make the Studio’s output a joy.VBAAnother heartfelt Thank You to the incredible Cecilia. She who presented me with my first VBA has now passed the Reader Appreciation Award my way as well. There is probably no irony at all in the fact that one of the rubrics for proper reception of this award is that one should pass it along to one’s own six most faithful commenting bloggers, but not to anyone who’s already received the award–and you guessed it, she’s been easily among the six most frequent and thoughtful and uplifting commenters here from Day One. One of my first frequent-flyers, period. And a constant source of gracious good-humored help and outsized compassion and good sense to push me ever upward and onward.Reader Appreciation AwardNow, in case I needed an extra boost, ‘Nessa popped back over to my place to tell me she’d also nominated me for the Kreativ Blogger Award, and that deserves yet another moment of humbling contemplation of my embarrassment of riches and the great aid lent me by all of you, to which I add Thank You again, no less joyfully and with equal amazement at my good fortune.Kreativ Blogger AwardAll of these are among my cloud of muses and angels, my support and drive and comfort in the form of family, friends, and teachers–all of whom are represented among you, my gracious and ever-encouraging, in the deepest sense of that word, readers. So I Thank You all particularly and sincerely for all of the strength, wisdom and joy you have shared with me since I began this blogging adventure. It seems far more than mere months ago that I began to meet you all–you have become so much a part of my world that I move through my days buoyed by the mere knowledge that you are ‘out there’ thinking up innumerable ways to brighten and improve my life, even when you don’t quite know it. That, you might well note, is what family and friends and mentors do, and oh, you do it very well indeed.

photo

Thank You for providing a Safe Harbor where I can be myself both at work and at play . . .

At the end of the year I can look back and be thankful for so many fine things, and one of them is clearly the great experience that my dive into the untested waters of the blogiverse has turned out to be. Thank you for making it not only painless but a great pleasure, a steeply upward learning curve, and generally smooth sailing to new and delightful places. I cannot begin to tell you how much I look forward to seeing those places with all of you.

For the moment, I shall wrap up here by recognizing those others who have so sustained me with their commentary. There’s the wonderful ChgoJohn, who also has already received this award himself because he’s always out offering wit and succor and freshly-sauced pasta to everybody around these parts; the sweet cfbookchick, so tender-hearted, poetic, quick with praise and generous with clever commentary as well as being a fellow ooh-sparkly-objects human magpie; the gentle, celestially-inclined Barb of Just a Smidgen, who consistently provides far more than a smidgen of encouragement and sunbeams and shared love of music hereabouts; the warm and open-handed Marie in her Little Corner of Rhode Island, who nurtures all while slyly tickling our ribs and funny-bones, stealthily adding bits of great practical advice all the while; and the self-effacing fairy godmother of Ireland, Our Lady of Just Add Attitude, who eschews awards (luckily for me this one officially doesn’t require her responding to it at all unless she so chooses) despite producing award-worthy posts of her travels and thoughtful ruminations on all sorts of good food and pretty things and then turns around complimenting everyone else as though she’s never heard of such talent. All of you, whether you know it or not, have been an amazing and unexpected joy in your sharing yourselves with me here.

It could but most certainly should not go without saying that these are all joined in my field of heroes by such fine characters as Ted and Nia, the two bardic Dennises, Raymund and Caroline, Desi and Lindy Lee, Anyes and Bella, Neil and Geni and oh so many other worthy and outstanding blogger colleagues and friends. And of course there is that particular fella who patiently shares me with my magical laptop kingdom and who works to keep the roof over our heads as well as still making me glad every time he spontaneously yells out “I LIKE YOU!” and gives me a big goofy wink.

Farewell, good 2011. Come on in, great and glorious 2012! And to all of you out there reading this, may you have a year full of peace, love, joy and ridiculously fun creative living.

digital collage

Thank You for helping me discover yet another Happy Place . . .

The One Person More Lost than Me

photoMom has taught me a whole lot of things. One of the most useful is how to turn one of my most frustrating shortcomings into a strength.  It’s a skill I’ll still spend the rest of my life polishing, but having been taught the basics, I know what I need to practice, and that is a tremendous boost.

My lifelong shyness and social anxiety rose to a not-at-all-surprising high level when I started college. The small university I attended was hardly an unknown element to me, as my parents and a couple of other relatives, as well as some friends, had attended there and my older sister was already starting her junior year there when I arrived. But being predisposed to fear and intimidation as my responses to all social situations, I was guaranteed to struggle with extra doses of my old hauntings by the terrors of interpersonal experience in the new to me surroundings, with a roommate I met the day we moved in to our shared dormitory space, all new classmates, new teachers and administrators and a neighborhood where I’d never more than visited briefly before.

For the most part, I muddled through just as I’d done since I was old enough to know how to be afraid of new people and situations, and even had, as always, plenty of the enjoyment I was capable of having. I did acquire a number of grand new friends, including my roommate, who turned out to be a fantastic companion and like-minded girl. I took classes that challenged and intrigued me and I dragged up enough courage to participate in some events and extracurricular activities that broadened my scope significantly. I was surrounded in my living quarters in an all-female dorm by a cadre of terrific young women who bolstered my puny sense of self and cheered me on like the best of good neighbors.

But one day, as the first year progressed, I was visiting informally with a handful of those girls and we got into a discussion (as college coeds still often do, from what I’ve seen) about First Impressions. One of the girls, to whom I will be eternally grateful, let it slip that on first meeting me she had thought, and had since learned that others had too, that I was Stuck Up. That’s the simple classification among my tribe of someone who thinks herself superior to others and disdains and dismisses them. I was dumbstruck.

She went on, hastily, to add that on getting to know me she had realized that the reason I often refused invitations, that I didn’t look people in the eye, and that I evaded interactions and conversations instead expressed a defensive retreat into my giant ossified shell of shyness and my fear of all things new and unknown and that, in fact, she and others really enjoyed my company. That was some consolation, but realizing through her honesty that I projected an image far less benign and far more distancing than I guessed, I knew I’d have to somehow wrest my way out of the armor I’d built around myself and at the very least learn to act the part of someone with social skills even if I didn’t have them.

Naturally, I went whimpering off to Mom. And she surprised me by going beyond the sympathetic and consoling mother needed in the conversation. I’d never imagined that this person I’d always known as having not only a mother’s authority but a certain status as both the recognized Favorite Mom among all of my friends over the years and a kind of built-in First Lady of all of the organizations in which she participated, not least of all as the pastor’s wife–that she had another side, one not so entirely different from my own. That she had been deeply intimidated by being expected to play the roles of guide, hostess, chief female church member, community do-gooder and cheerleader, and all of the other philanthropic and social leadership parts inherently assumed by others to be part of her place in the world. And that, when Dad was busy being the speaker, preacher, chairman, boss and whatever his role of the moment happened to be, she was stuck in meetings and receptions and services and classes full of strangers who expected her to carry not only her own weight but that of whatever they thought was required for the occasion.

I almost wilted, thinking of what it must have been like for her.

But then she imparted the piece of wisdom that ‘cracked the case’ for me. I got the MacGuffin: social anxiety and extreme shyness assume that I am the center of the universe. That the rest of the world is watching me and is dependent on my doing or being certain things for its success and happiness. And that I am suffering the most for the cause. She put it in much more tactful terms, I’m quite certain, given that I was a flimsy excuse for an ego, a fragile not yet twenty year old still unable to see my path in everyday life clearly.

I think what she really told me (from which I extrapolated the above) was the incredibly handy ‘trick’ she’d learned for coping with all of these unreasonable social and activist demands. When you arrive, immediately look for the one person in the room more uncomfortable and more out of place than you. Even when you’re absolutely sure it’s not possible, there’s always someone more scared, more intimidated, more inexperienced or at the very least, who thinks that they are. It’s true, by the way; I’ve seen it proven over and over since. Go and gently introduce yourself and ask this person about him- or herself. Make this person the most interesting part of your life while you’re there.

That’s it, really. Suddenly, it’s not my job to be perfect or achieve the goals of the event or even to be interesting or brave; it’s my job to make another scared person feel more welcome and at ease. I don’t have to spend any energy on worrying about how I look to others or whether I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, because nobody with an ounce of sense is going to argue that taking care of someone in need isn’t what we’re all supposed to be doing, that recognizing that there’s someone whose need is greater than our own isn’t precisely the most attractive thing we can accomplish, and that a friendly smile isn’t the most fashionable item anyone can wear for any occasion.

I fall down on this effort often enough, still, and do my well practiced imitation of an additional pillar holding up the dimmest corner of the room. I haven’t Saved anyone else from the brink of doom through my heroic attempts to cheer them up for a half hour. I still have impressive dramatic skills in making faux pas and pratfalling my way through the day and then doing my best to make the earth swallow me whole.

But afterward, I remember to quit imagining myself the cynosure of Creation, let go of my need to be correct and impressive and likable and spend my energies on helping someone who doesn’t know Mom’s useful little technique to feel more correct and impressive and likable. I will put on my shiny smile and play the role of somebody better than me and hope that someday, if I practice it hard enough, it will become second nature and I won’t even have to work at it at all. It makes me smile just thinking about it.

If you happen to be headed to yet another office holiday party or first-of-the-year reception any time soon, you can test this theory yourself. Thank my mom. Or, if you happen to subscribe to a certain story that is commemorated on this very night, thank the Person who became most vulnerable of all in order to protect and rescue everybody weaker.

photo